MIDDLETOWN – The NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 4 semifinal between Brick and Middletown South was supposed to be a close game. Nearly every metric pointed to a back-and-forth game being decided late, and most prognosticators agreed. The nasty weather forecast for Friday night only furthered those thoughts.

But as Brick head coach Len Zdanowicz noted following the game, sometimes his team has other plans.

It was far from a close game at The Swamp as Brick stormed Middletown South early and often on its way to an emphatic 42-14 victory that sent the Dragons to the Central Jersey Group 4 championship game. Senior quarterback Jimmy Leblo accounted for five touchdowns in the first half as Brick (8-2) rolled to an eye-popping 35-0 halftime advantage. Senior defensive back Mike McGuigan had two interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown, and the Dragons’ defense held Middletown South under 100 yards of offense while forcing four turnovers.

Brick awaits the winner of Saturday’s semifinal game between top-seeded Long Branch and fifth-seeded Brick Memorial. Brick reached the Central Jersey Group 4 final in 2016 and last won a sectional title in 2013.

“We have 22 seniors on this team and each one of them are my brothers,” Leblo said. “I’ve been playing with these kids since I was 5-years old in flag football. We just want to keep playing with each other. We don’t want to let it go.”

“That’s the key,” Zdanowicz said. “They didn’t want it to end. And for a lot of these kids who played as sophomores, it’s like their seventh playoff game. They’re comfortable in this position.”

Comfort was somewhat of a theme on Friday night. Entering the night there were 12 Shore Conference teams across nine games left in the NJSIAA playoffs. Friday's forecast called for heavy rains throughout the night. Only one game didn’t get postponed to Saturday.

"I think everyone was fired up because they wanted to play us today,” Leblo said. “They didn’t want to cancel it because they thought they could stop our passing game if it was raining and we couldn’t run on them, and I think that fired everyone up.”

“It’s gamesmanship,” Zdanowicz said. “Last week we postponed a game because of the threat of weather and thinking of our passing game and the stuff we do. From (Middleton South’s) point of view, I would have done the same thing. It depends on what you think is going to help you the most. It was smart on their part but our kids just came out here and executed.”

During warmups about 30 from kickoff, the rain was coming down in sheets. It didn’t look like anybody would be able to throw the ball with much success. But when the teams came out for the start of the game the rain had subsided significantly. That allowed Brick to go to the air early and produce a pair of touchdowns.

“It was pouring when we were out here warming up and we got inside and talked about how we’re probably not going to be able to throw the ball,” Leblo said. “Then we come out here and it’s a beautiful football night.”

Leblo caught a 30-yard pass from junior quarterback Anthony Prato on the first play of the game, setting the tone for an eight-play, 64-yard scoring drive that Leblo finished off with a 1-yard scoring run.

Middletown South fumbled on its first offensive play and senior defensive end Cory Englehardt recovered at the Eagles’ 25-yard line. On the very next play, Prato threw a touchdown to a wide-open Leblo on a reverse pass to give Brick a 14-0 lead just five minutes into the game.

The lead grew to 21-0 late in the first quarter when Brick stopped Middletown South on downs after the Eagles had recovered a fumble at the Brick 37-yard line. On third-and-1, Leblo burst free up the middle for a 55-yard touchdown run as a shell-shocked Middletown South sideline looked on in disbelief.

The green and white train kept rolling in the second quarter when McGuigan stepped in front of a Trevor Brey pass for an interception which he returned 18 yards to the Middletown South 11-yard line. Following a penalty, Leblo scored on a 16-yard touchdown run to give Brick a 28-0 lead.

The Dragons’ weren’t done yet.

Brick’s lead ballooned to 35-0 at halftime when Leblo recovered a fumble at the Middletown South 18-yard line and then scored his fifth touchdown of the half by breaking through an Eagles defense that was trying to strip the ball from his hands for a 14-yard score.

“Five touchdowns in the first half, I’ve never done that before,” Leblo said. “The offensive linemen did a phenomenal job. Some of those touchdowns I was untouched. Those 35 points were because of the five people in front of me.”

Halftime did little to slow Brick’s onslaught. Midway through the third quarter, McGuigan intercepted a pass in the flat and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown to give Brick a 42-0 lead. McGuigan leads the Shore Conference with seven interceptions.

“I love to read the quarterback, he tells you where the ball’s going every time,” McGuigan said.

Middletown South got on the board when Tyler Cuccia returned the ensuing kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown, but the damage had already been done. The second half zoomed by with the clock constantly running via the 35-point mercy rule before Chris Lotito scored on a 1-yard run on the final play of the game to cap the scoring.

Now Brick moves on to the program’s 13th NJSIAA sectional final where the Dragons will look to bring home their eighth sectional championship. Friday’s game proved they’re peaking at the perfect time.

“Our team is just getting better and better,” Leblo said. “We’re gelling and coming together even more. If we can keep doing this we’ll be unstoppable.”

“At halftime it was like, ‘Did that just happen?’,” Zdanowicz said. “Sometimes with our kids they have other plans. They’re fired up and ready for whoever’s next.”

 

Box Score

Brick 42, Middletown South 14 

  Brick Middletown South
First downs 10 5
Rushes-yards 34-250 21-53
Passing 3-4-0 6-8-2
Passing yards 59 43
Fumbles-lost 1-1 2-2
Penalties-yards 6-40 2-10

 

  1 2 3 4 F
Brick (8-2) 21 14 7 0 42
Middletown South (7-3) 0 0 7 7 14

 

Scoring summary

B – Jimmy Leblo 1-yard run (Jake Wynkoop kick)

B – Jimmy Leblo 25-yard pass from Anthony Prato (Jake Wynkoop kick)

B – Jimmy Leblo 55-yard run (Jake Wynkoop kick)

B – Jimmy Leblo 16-yard run (Jake Wynkoop kick)

B – Jimmy Leblo 14-yard run (Jake Wynkoop kick)

B – Mike McGuigan 35-yard interception return (Jake Wynkoop kick)

MS – Tyler Cuccia 85-yard kickoff return (Chris Kaldrovics kick)

MS – Chris Lotito 1-yard run (Chris Kaldrovics kick)

 

Individual statistics

RUSHING – B: Jimmy Leblo 11-128, Jake Wynkoop 5-48, Joey Carchio 11-36, Val Grigorian 3-17, Joe Armooh 3-12, Anthony Prato 1-9; MS: Kenny McCarthy 5-23, Jamie Petrillo 5-13, Chris Lotito 2-15, Vinny Condito 3-7, Trevor Brey 6-(-5).

PASSING – B: Anthony Prato 2-3-0 53, Jimmy Leblo 1-1-0 6; MS: Trevor Brey 6-8 2 43.

RECEIVING – B: Jimmy Leblo 2-53, Joe Carchio 1-6; MS: Luke Albrecht 2-14, Connor Ard 1-7, Jamie Petrillo 1-6, Matt Tardy 1-8, Chris Lotito 1-8.

INTERCEPTIONS – B: Mike McGuigan 2-53.

 

Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at bob.badders@townsquaremedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.

 

Sign Up For The SSN Newsletter

Please fill out this form to sign up for the Shore Sports Network newsletter.